Review: 2015 Porsche Macan Turbo

Monday October 20th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Porsche Macan Turbo

By David Colman

Hypes: Breakthrough SUV/Sports Car
Gripes: Needs Passenger Controlled Rear Seat Ventilation

How do you define sports car? If your description includes “low slung two seat conveyance,” you’re hopelessly out of touch with the times. Porsche has just redefined the concept of sports car to include elevated ride height and seating for five. They call their new segment buster the Macan. In Turbo trim, this stubby and potent compact SUV will run the wheels off any “sports car” you care to choose — including such stalwarts from Porsche as the Cayman and 911. The Macan Turbo, thanks to 400hp and 406 pound-feet of torque, will cover the 0-60MPH run in 4.4 seconds and top out at 164mph. Is that sporty enough for you?

Macan shares some similarities with VW family tree relative, Audi’s Q5. But unlike Porsche’s full size SUV Cayenne, which is closely related to VW’s Touareg, the Macan neither resembles nor performs like the Q5. In fact, the Macan Turbo occupies an SUV niche of its own, capable of providing top echelon sports car performance on paved roads or Baja busting transit over special outback stages. The trick to unleashing Macan’s double edged potential lies in checking the right boxes when you configure your order. You will want to specify the following essential options: Sport Chrono Package ($1,290), Air Suspension including Porsche Active Suspension Management ($1,385), and 21″ 911 Turbo Design Wheels ($3,300). Our test Macan (Base price: $72,300), finished in Agate Grey Metallic ($690), also included a scrumptious Natural Leather Interior in Espresso, Brushed Aluminum door, dash and shifter trim (NC), and a sensational Burmester High-End Surround Sound music system ($4,290).

2015 Porsche Macan Turbo

The Sport Chrono option, signified by the presence of a stop watch mounted atop the dash, works in consort with the standard PDK 7-speed double clutch automatic gearbox to unleash brutal standing start acceleration with launch control. Chrono equipped Macans run to 60mph from a dead stop 2 tenths of a second quicker than non-Chrono Macans. Chrono also enhances your driving menu with selections ranging from “Comfort,” to “Sport” and “Sport+.” Comfort is freeway plush, Sport tightens up responsiveness of steering and shocks considerably, while Sport+ nails the platform to the road with vise-like precision. The air suspension option provides four ride height settings (Normal, Low, Loading and Off-Road), choices unavailable on Macans with standard steel suspension. The Low setting drops your Macan 15mm below the ride height of a standard suspension Macan. When that reduced ride height is coupled to the adhesive Michelin Latitude Sport 3 tires (265/40R21 front, 295/35R21 rear) that shoe the 21 inch 911 Turbo alloys, the Macan Turbo transforms itself into a potent canyon carver that will stick with any model Porsche “sports car.” As an added incentive, the dazzling 21s make the Turbo look just like a Hot Wheels dream toy.

2015 Porsche Macan Turbo

Yet inside this potent bomb, all is serene and elegant. The Espresso leather, immaculately stitched and complemented by understated brushed aluminum trim, imparts an elegance level befitting a $90,000 vehicle. The Burmester system will rip your ear drums to shreds or murmur sweet nothings with the twist of a dial. The steering wheel in the Macan, the first to be borrowed from the design used in Porsche’s million dollar 918, features knurled thumb knobs to control stereo volume (left thumb), or access informative diagnostics (right thumb). Porsche’s excellent 18-way adjustable Sport Seat, a carryover from the Boxster, Cayman and 911, is standard issue on the Macan Turbo. It is impossible to fault for comfort or adjustability, with 3 memory positions available for each front seat occupant. The Macan’s ample window height insures excellent side vision. Rear seat passengers will enjoy the exaggerated greenhouse effect, though they are not given ventilation outlets of their own to control. With rear seats erect, you are left with a useful flat trunk space of 17.7 cubic feet, which expands to 53 cubic feet when you drop the 60/40 split rear seats flat. Don’t forget that lowering the air suspension to the “Load” setting will facilitate any Sherpa detail you might have in mind for your Macan. You’ll be hard pressed to find that kind of luxuriant and accessible storage in any other sports car.

2015 Porsche Macan Turbo

When I first read Porsche’s brochure claim that the new Macan is “The first true sports car among compact SUVs,” I was highly dubious about the merit of this accolade. After spending a fairly euphoric week behind the Macan’s 918-style wheel, I would have to agree with the conclusion that this brutal looking Leatherman tool defines a new category of its own. Porsche has devised a 4-door 5 seat sports car that may look like an SUV but drives like something else entirely.

2015 Porsche Macan Turbo

2015 Porsche Macan Turbo

  • Engine: 3.6 liter V-6 Twin Turbo
  • Horsepower: 400hp @ 6,000rpm
  • Torque: 406 lb.-ft. @ 1,350-4,000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 17.1 MPG (Observed)
  • Price as Tested: $87,940
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Chrysler 200C

Sunday October 19th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Chrysler 200C

By David Colman

Hypes: Stunning Design, 9 Speed Gearbox, Well Focused Interior
Gripes: Needs Rear Wiper

The 200 series sedan has long been important to Chrysler’s overall sales success. The 200 competes in the industry’s most significant mid-size segment, which accounts for 2 million sales across all brands each year. One of every six cars sold is a mid size sedan. Chrysler’s previous effort in this segment, the outgoing 200, sold 125,000 units in 2012. Since then, Chrysler has become part of the Fiat empire. With design help from Fiat subsidiary Alfa Romeo, Chrysler brings to market an all new 200 for 2015. This is not a freshened remake of the previous car, but a new offering based partly on Alfa’s Giulietta sports sedan.

The 200 is available in 5 different flavors (including AWD), with the 200LX being the most affordable with its base price of $21,700. As you work your way up the food chain, you encounter the 200 Limited, 200S and finally the premium model we tested, the 200C, with a base price of $25,995. Letter cars (i.e. 200 “C”) have traditionally stood for something special from Chrysler, and this 200 carries on that proud tradition. Under its hood sits the most potent engine available for the 200 model line, a 3.6 liter Pentastar V-6 producing 295hp and 262 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,250rpm. Unlike the car it’s powering, the Pentastar V-6 is not a new offering. More than 3 million have been built since Chrysler introduced the current V-6 in 2011. This engine costs an extra $1,950, an option that also provides heavy duty 4-wheel ABS disc brakes, as well as shift paddles connected to the steering wheel.

2015 Chrysler 200C

What is new, however, is coupling the V-6 to the first 9-speed automatic transmission ever offered in the mid size market segment. The 9HP78 gearbox maximizes not only performance, but fuel economy as well. The new 300 records a 9% improvement in mileage over the outgoing model. In the lower 4 gears, this sedan is a strong runner, with instant acceleration on tap provided you use the paddles to downshift into an appropriate rpm range for maximum lift off. The transmission control unit is a rotary dial that sits inconspicuously atop the center console. It takes a bit of familiarization before you feel fully comfortable with its operation and location, but you can’t quibble with its ease of use or space saving size. Its selections include a sport detent labeled “S” that not only disables Traction Control, but also insures that the gear you have selected with the paddles remains in force until you decide to change it. The system works flawlessly, and pays proper homage to the kind of engineering advance long typical of Chrysler “letter” cars.

2015 Chrysler 200C

Design inspiration for the sleek looks of the 200 comes from a bevy of familiar American idioms like Chris Craft boats, Eames furniture, Airstream trailers, and Apple’s iPhone. For example, the handy sliding drink holder between the front seats operates like a fine piece of Eames design furniture. Chrysler designers tried to emulate the stripped modern look of bentwood furniture in their overall design brief for the 200′s interior. You’ll find countless cleverly hidden cubbies for stowing your belongings. Instead of garish chrome trim, you’re treated to high gloss piano black highlights on the door panels and dashboard. Particularly well handled are the floating instrument cluster design and the optional HD 8.4 inch TFT touch screen which controls most cabin and entertainment functions. Thoughtfully provided are redundant buttons for temp control and fan speed so you aren’t forced to rely on display screen sub-menus while trying to concentrate on driving.

2015 Chrysler 200C

Handling of this mid size sedan is so sporting that drivers addicted to zipping around corners will find its rewarding behavior far exceeds their preconceptions. The design team has utilized much light weight aluminum in the fabrication of the front MacPherson strut suspension’s lower control arms, as well as the cross member which supports the independent rear suspension. Even the boldly designed optional 19″ x 8″ alloy wheels ($995) have been designed specifically for use on the 200C. They replace standard 17″ alloys, and support a set of suction inducing Nexen 235/40R19 tires that really get with the sport program.

2015 Chrysler 200C

Chrysler’s attention to detail in the engineering of the 200C is enough to make you marvel at the operation of the simplest features. Take the air ducts on the dashboard, for example. These open and close with the precision of a Swiss watch because they are actuated by rack and pinion gearing. It’s a small touch, but indicative of the level of forethought that went into the construction of this splendid new sedan.

2015 Chrysler 200C

  • Engine: 3.6 liter V-6, 24 Valves, VVT
  • Horsepower: 295hp
  • Torque: 262lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19MPG City/32 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $33,240
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS

Saturday October 18th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS

By David Colman

Hypes: Go-Kart handling, Best Seats in the Biz
Gripes: Still Looks Homely

Nismo is the competition arm of the Nissan empire. Any vehicle bearing the Nismo badge is sure to appeal to the driving enthusiast. Currently, Nismo’s best effort is also their most affordable one, the $26,120 Juke Nismo RS. Now, the Juke is never going to win anyone’s beauty prize, thanks to its bulbous headlights, angular planes, and ungainly tall stance. But to Nismo’s credit, the stylists and engineers in the competition department have orchestrated a makeover that turns the homely Juke into a fearsome canyon carver with looks to match.

2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS

Let’s start with the carefully contrived cosmetic surgery. Because the letter “O” in NISMO is red – like the Japanese setting sun – everything else on the Juke RS derives from that chroma key. A neat red pinstripe decorates the RS-specific front and rear fascias as well as the rocker panels of the Sapphire Black body. Red rear view mirrors complete the two tone appearance of the exterior. Inside, the color symphony continues with racing Recaro front buckets with black suede seating surfaces, red side bolsters and red “Nismo RS” embroidered headrests. Black front and rear seats display contrasting red stitching, and even the 8,000rpm tachometer face (redline 6,500) is anodized red to match the rest of the bi-color decor.

Simulated carbon fiber surrounds the 5.8 inch color touchscreen in the center of the dash face. This navigation device, which also offers various Nissan Connect applications, is part of the $1,200 optional Navigation Package that includes Voice Recognition for Audio and Navigation, Sirius XM Traffic and Travel Link, and Streaming Audio via Bluetooth. A Rockford Fosgate “ecoPUNCH” audio system with subwoofer, and USB Connection Port for iPod-like devices completes the benefits package.

2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS

But the hospitality of the interior furnishings are secondary components of the Juke’s DNA. This is primarily a tightly focused driver’s car, with an unforgiving ride quality, and a peaky but powerful engine. Likewise, the Recaro seats offer heavenly support when you’re strapped in, but are maddeningly difficult to enter or exit. If you’ve got racer genes, the performance of the Juke Nismo RS will be more than worth the tradeoff in comfort and ease of operation. The uprated 197hp “DIG Turbo” direct injection motor is 10hp stronger than that of the base Juke. It also produces 184 lb.-ft. of torque, 7 pounds more than the standard Juke. The suspension is considerably stiffer than the stock Juke, so you will feel more road imperfections but enjoy greater control when the road turns twisty. The premium performance biased Continental tires (225/45R18 ContiSportContacts) ride on Nismo specific 7 x 18 inch alloys with enough tiny spokes to keep you busy for hours at car wash time.

Rear seat passengers in this Juke will long for their trip to conclude. The exceptionally tall Recaro front seat backs impede frontal vision for rear seat riders, as well as knee room. Although the Juke offers a fifth door hatchback, cargo space is so limited that you’ll want to fold flat the 60/40 split rear seats to make room for anything bulky. A nice feature is the under-floor rear cargo bin, ideal for hiding valuables from sight.

2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS

The Juke Nismo RS is a hard core enthusiast sedan which makes few concessions to comfort or ease of drivability in its quest to provide maximum thrust on twisty roads. If you enjoy road racing, you will love this little rocket. Kudos to Nissan for having the resolve to offer such a tightly focused sports package at such an affordable price. The Recaro seats alone are worth the paltry price of admission.

2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS

  • Engine: 1.6 liter inline 4, turbocharged with direct injection
  • Horsepower: 197hp.
  • Torque: 184 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 25 MPG City/31 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $28,345
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Lexus IS-F 4-DR Sedan

Friday October 17th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Lexus IS-F 4-DR Sedan

By David Colman

Hypes: Thumper Motor, Superb Fit and Finish
Gripes: Bi-Xenon Headlights Need to Swivel

Attention BMW M Customers: Be sure to check out this Lexus before you buy Bavarian. The newest version of the Lexus IS-F is without question the most hard edged performance car the company has built since the $400,000 LFA ceased production three years ago. Now that BMW has forsaken V-8 power for the M4 in favor of a turbocharged 6, Lexus maintains a performance advantage over the German benchmark by offering the IS-F with a throbbing 416hp 5 liter V-8 that pulverizes pavement with 371 pound feet of torque.

This is a true muscle car motor, worthy of any drag strip you care to attack. But Lexus conceived of the F as a complete package, with the kind of suspension refinement period muscle cars never came close to achieving. You will appreciate the IS-F’s finely tuned, race bred double wishbone front suspension, which reads pavement changes like a savant. With the added benefit of sophisticated multi-link rear geometry, the IS-F steers and adheres better than any product Lexus or parent company Toyota currently offer.

2014 Lexus IS-F 4-DR Sedan

If you have any doubt about the F’s handling supremacy, just look at those 19 inch forged BBS alloy wheels and super sticky tires Michelin Pilot Sport tires. The 14 spoke wheels, finished in fetching liquid graphite, measure 19 x 8 inches front and 19 x 8.5 inches rear. They are shod with rubber measuring 225/40R19 front and 245/35R19 rear. Recessed behind the alloys are massive 14.2 inch Brembo style 6 piston front disc brakes backed up by 13.6 inch double piston rear discs. With high friction pads, these stoppers will let you spend a day at the track without losing your brakes.

2014 Lexus IS-F 4-DR Sedan

The idea of taking the IS-F to the track is not at all farfetched. With its standard TORSEN limited slip differential, you are assured of intelligent torque distribution through the F’s rear wheel drive. You’ll also never be at a loss for the correct gear ratio since the IS-F’s Sport Direct Shift automatic offers 8 gears controlled by either the stick between the front seats or the oversize paddles attached to the steering wheel. The steering wheel itself is eminently grip worthy thanks to a fat rim covered in perforated leather. The front seats can be configured to encapsulate you like racing buckets, or relaxed to emulate the comfort of your favorite lounge chair. Both seats are heated, and covered entirely in red and black leather, with 10 modes of power adjustment available plus memory settings for both sides. Front seats feature the letter “F” embroidered on the side bolsters and headrests.

2014 Lexus IS-F 4-DR Sedan

Especially effective are the Optitron electroluminescent gauges, which come alive during night driving with a brilliance that will shock you. Right under your nose is a pie plate sized tachometer that reads all the way to 9,000 rpm. Redline is 6,800rpm. Flanking it on the right is a much smaller 210 (!) mph analog speedometer, augmented by a digital speed readout window. The important gear selection indicator could stand to be larger and more prominently displayed, since its current location in the upper right quadrant of the display panel plays hide and seek with the steering wheel. All trim surfaces on the dash and door panels are done in a silver carbon fiber like material that reinforces the F’s image as a race track bred machine. The cockpit is seamlessly constructed, with the kind of panel fit you’ve come to expect from Lexus. Most cars with track aspiration tend to look like boy racers designed them. The IS-F, on the other hand, with its merciful lack of flamboyant flourish, was expressly designed to appeal to the mature adult.

2014 Lexus IS-F 4-DR Sedan

This Lexus shows just how many cannons Lexus has stored in its go-fast arsenal. It’s not often that parent corporation Toyota displays this much technology. But every few years, the world’s leading auto manufacturer takes the wraps off something special. Last time it was the LFA, this time the IS-F. You might think it looks like just another gap-mouthed Lexus family sedan until you notice the bevy of subtle F monikers on its flanks, or the sizeable carbon fiber tail spoiler anchoring its trunk lip. At that point you realize this Lexus is in many ways directly related to the splendid prototype sports cars Toyota fielded at Le Mans in this year’s 24 hour race. No clearer example than the IS-F can be found to prove once again the adage that racing improves the breed.

2014 Lexus IS-F 4-DR Sedan

  • Engine: 5.0 liter V-8, DOHC, 32 Valves, Direct and Port Injection, VVT intake and exhaust
  • Horsepower: 416hp
  • Torque: 371 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 16 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $67,419
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4×4 Diesel

Thursday October 16th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4x4 Diesel

By David Colman

Hypes: Solid Power Team, Efficient Use of Space
Gripes: Vague Steering Feel, Ergonomic Cabin Issues

The big news at Jeep this year is availability of a diesel engine for the Grand Cherokee model. Although this Eco Diesel option is not inexpensive, at $5,000, it will pay back dividends in mileage and cruising range unavailable with either of Grand Cherokee’s other gas engine offerings (3.6 liter V6 and 5.7 liter V8). If you opt for the diesel, your 24.6 gallon fuel tank will take you more than 700 miles between visits to the pump island. In addition, you will be able to tow a 7400 pound trailer thanks to the diesel’s 420 pound feet of torque. That prodigious torque output makes the Grand Cherokee diesel your best bet for towing duties. By comparison, the 5.7 liter V8 makes 390 pound feet of torque.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4x4 Diesel

Also new for 2014 is the appropriately named Summit model, a range topper which outranks the Overland as the most luxurious Grand Cherokee of all. If you haven’t examined a Jeep interior in a while, you will be smitten with the attention to detail inside this cabin. Our test Jeep, done up in Jeep Brown, is meant to emulate the colors of the Grand Canyon. To me it looked more like an advertisement for See’s Chocolates. Vast swatches of glove soft “Natura-Plus” mocha leather cover the seating surfaces and complement the matching open pore wood of the dash and center console. Even the steering wheel rim features real wood top and bottom segments. The suede-like headliner and A-pillars beg you to touch them. The instrument panel can be configured with a variety of displays thanks to thin film transistor (TFT) technology. The huge double paned panoramic sunroof blasts the interior with enough daylight and fresh air to dispel any trace of back seat claustrophobia. Though it’s hard to find demerits inside the Summit Jeep, flat, hard front seats cry for softer cushions and additional side support.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4x4 Diesel

Also new for 2014 is an 8 speed automatic transmission which offers torque multiplication in gears 1 through 5, direct drive (1:1) in gear 6, and overdrive ratios in speeds 7 and 8. The transmission up shifts and downshifts seamlessly. For 2014, all Grand Cherokees include paddle shifts for gear changes. The gear selection controller sits atop the center console, activated by a stubby T-handle lever with detents set so close together that it’s easy to get Neutral or Park when seeking Reverse.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4x4 Diesel

Although you might mistake this Jeep’s many luxury indulgences for a soft underbelly, that is hardly the case. In fact, the Summit is well equipped to conquer any unpaved road you care to tackle. This Jeep is Trail Rated, an honor bestowed only on vehicles which meet strict guidelines for ground clearance, maneuverability, traction, articulation and water fording. In the case of the Grand Cherokee, you can count on its sophisticated full time 4 Wheel Drive Quadra Trac II system to guarantee traction and maneuverability in the outback. As far as ride height is concerned, the Summit provides a Quadra Lift air suspension system that affords 8.7 inches of ground clearance in normal daily driving. You can elevate it 1.3 inches by selecting the Off Road 1 setting, or 2.6 inches for Off Road 2. With 11.3 inches of ground clearance in this rock avoidance mode, you can clear most any obstacle, or dare to ford stream beds. If you choose Aero Mode, or Sport setting, the Jeep drops 0.6 inch to a ride height of 8.1 inches for less wind resistance and better fuel economy.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4x4 Diesel

The Summit edition of the Grand Cherokee is a styling exercise that ticks all the right boxes for clean design. First you’ll notice new LED head and tail lights, and new charcoal rocker panels which match dark gray lower valences front and rear. The rear under tray houses exhaust tips, the front sports newly integrated fog lights. Bi-Xenon headlights swivel from side to side for improved back road illumination as you turn the steering wheel. Model specific polished aluminum alloy rims measure 8 x 20 inches and plant hefty contact patches on the road thanks to Goodyear Fortera HL tires measuring 265/50R20.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4x4 Diesel

The Summit diesel weighs 5,149 pounds, so you won’t be whipping it through S curves like a sport SUV. You’ll also become quickly cognizant of its heft when you make your first U-turn, an undertaking that uses up 37 feet of road and forces you to swing the steering wheel through 3.7 turns from lock to lock. But once you’ve seated four or five adults inside this luxurious cabin, and headed off road to do some serious trail blazing, you’ll marvel at just how much power, range and competence $59,000 will buy when you select this Detroit-built bargain of a Jeep.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4×4 Diesel

  • Engine: 3.0 liter V-6 Diesel, turbocharged, common rail direct injection
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 420lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/ 28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $50,875
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

Wednesday October 15th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

By David Colman

Hypes: Solid Power Team, Efficient Use of Space
Gripes: Vague Steering Feel, Ergonomic Cabin Issues

Through the first third of 2014, Ford has sold 72,746 Fusions. That accomplishment places the Fusion fourth in the mid size market segment, behind Nissan’s third place Altima, Toyota’s second place Camry and sales leader Honda’s 112,100 Accord sales. The Fusion may lag the imports, but it is a rousing success compared to other domestic brands like Chevrolet’s Malibu (43,101 sales), Dodge’s Avenger (25,068) and Chrysler’s aging 200 (21,648). The reason for Fusion’s strong showing lies in its appearance, value, and diversity of models. Let’s start with looks, because that’s the first sales hook you’ll encounter. Ford blatantly emulated the grill silhouette of Aston Martin’s $300,000 DB-9 to distinguish the Fusion from anything else in the mid size segment. The Ford’s high belt line also mimics the Aston’s tall side/squat greenhouse proportions. The result is a very handsome product from Ford that rings the styling bell with cues borrowed from Aston’s James Bond closet.

The value facet of Fusion ownership manifests itself in the wide variety of affordable combinations Ford offers. No fewer than 9 different models are available for 2014, ranging in price from the FWD S at $21,900 to the Titanium Energi at $40,500. You choose from 4 different engine options, FWD or AWD, plus 2 plug-in hybrids designated SE and Titanium. The Energi (Hybrid) SE that is the subject of this review carries a base price of $36,700. With the addition of a $295 Reverse Sensing System and a $795 Navigation System, this Fusion SE’s delivered price is $40,585.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

If you choose a Hybrid Fusion, you will lose considerable trunk space compared to a gas powered model. The high energy battery pack occupies a substantial section of the trunk floor, leaving you just a little flat storage area before the floor steps up sharply to house the battery and electric motor components. Note that although your warranty will cover all Energi system bits for 15 years or 150,000 miles, the high energy battery warranty is limited to 10 years or 150,000 miles. Since this Hybrid is only capable of covering 21 miles before its battery charge expires, the trunk space trade-off would seem to pose a considerable deterrent to selecting a Hybrid Fusion. An SE with gas motor only retails for just $23,855, and comes with an unobstructed and spacious trunk.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

But the beauty of this Hybrid lies in its virtually undetectable transfer from electric to gasoline mode when underway. Whereas most such combo cars let you know quite clearly and noisily when switching from electric to gas power, the Fusion transfers energy source quietly and seamlessly. Under full electric power, it proved so quiet that we were able to sneak up on a bobcat hunting in the wild without alarming the cat. An idling gas engine would have instantly driven this cat into the bushes. So there are unanticipated blessings when running silently on electricity. Another Hybrid virtue is the shot of thrust the electric motor provides when you flatten the throttle. The 2.0 liter gas engine which normally provides 141hp and 129 pound-feet of torque, links up with the electric power source which adds 118hp and 117 pounds of its own torque. That’s more than enough surge to spring past slower traffic on two lane roads, or slot into a 70mph freeway pattern without worry. Best of all, you’ll do so while averaging 43 MPG in overall driving. If you restrict your Fusion outings to electric power only, you’ll register 100MPGe. As far as the Energi’s Greenhouse Gas Rating, it scores a perfect 10 out of 10 on the EPA/DOT barometer, and a 7 out of 10 on the Smog Rating scale.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

Unfortunately, Ford equips the Energi SE with rock hard (Treadwear Rating: 430) Michelin Energy tires (225/50R17), that lose grip at the least provocation on twisty back roads. Because this sedan is otherwise so well balanced and sensitive to steering input, the Michelins detract from an otherwise pleasant handling package. If you replace them with something stickier, you might sacrifice a few MPG in favor of improved adhesion. It’s a move well worth making.

Learning to love the Fusion is easy because the interior is so well designed. In SE trim, the driver’s seat is heated and offers 10 power adjustments as well as 3 memory positions. The other front seat is also heated, with 4 power position controls. The rear seat is surprisingly comfortable for long trips. I spent several hours in back, comforted by a large center armrest containing 2 drink holders, and a pair of small, floor-mounted AC vents with adjustable nozzles. the only rear seat demerit stems from the Fusion’s high beltline and small windows, which tend to induce claustrophobia and motion sickness if you enjoy reading while riding.

Ford’s Fusion is leading domestic mid size sales because it looks good, rides well and offers a wide variety of combinations and price points. The Energi SE is one of a handful of Hybrids that’s not only economical to run, but also fun to drive.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

  • Engine: 3.5 liter DOHC V6 with VVT-I, plus Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 270hp
  • Torque: 280lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/ 28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $50,875
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

Posted in Electric, Expert Reviews, Feature Articles, Ford |Tags:, , , || No Comments »


Review: 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

Tuesday October 14th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Solid Power Team, Efficient Use of Space
Gripes: Vague Steering Feel, Ergonomic Cabin Issues

Get more, pay more. Toyota has dimensionally revised the 2014 version of its Highlander, widening it 4.5 inches, and adding 3 inches to its length. Although wheelbase remains as before, at 110 inches, interior space increases to the point that the third row bench seat will now accommodate three people rather than two. The foursome that occupy the first two rows of Captain’s Chairs enjoy indulgent splendor. Front row perforated leather seats are heated and ventilated, with the driver’s chair offering 8 way power adjustment, and the shotgun seat good for 4.

Both second and third row seats recline and fold for cargo use. Though the threesome hitching a ride in the back of this 4,852 pound bus will find their surroundings somewhat less palatial, the wide aisle between the second row Captain’s Chairs offers exceptionally easy access to those third row seats. If you choose the most expensive version of the Highlander – the all -wheel-drive Hybrid Limited that we tested – you will discover that its base price, like its size, has also swelled, from $46,370 in 2013 to $49,790 for the 2014 version.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

Of course, cherry picking the top model also yields dividends not found on lesser Highlanders. For example, Limited status provides a Platinum Package of goodies at no extra charge. This bevy of niceties adds heated, perforated leather second row Captain’s Chairs, plus technology upgrades like dynamic radar cruise control, automatic high beam headlights, and lane departure alert. But the most worthy addition of all is the cabin capping Panoramic Moon roof, with its power tilt and slide front section and fixed rear panel. This feature reinforces your sense of spatial freedom. All seating positions benefit from its extra light and expanded view.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

The Hybrid power train works in consort with a Constantly Variable Transmission to provide terrific thrust whenever you need it. The electric motor will power you through slow city driving, with the 3.5 liter V6 gas engine kicking in as needed. When you pin the accelerator to the floor, the two modes of propulsion combine for seamless acceleration. With 270hp and 280 lb.-ft. of torque, the Hybrid Highlander will crack the 7 second barrier in the 0-60mph run, and pull a trailer weighing 3,500 pounds. The cherry on top is the exceptional mileage this package records. By posting an overall consumption of 28 MPG, this Hybrid owns Consumer Report’s top SUV mileage figure.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

New for 2014 is a trapezoidal grill, re-contoured headlights, plus redesigned front and rear fascias. However, only Highlander devotees will recognize these mild alterations because this Toyota’s appearance is so understated and mainstream. If you seek a stylistic attention getter, than you’re looking at the wrong vehicle. Which is not to say that the Highlander is lacking in either grace or proportions. Its architecture is, in fact, classic Toyota: utilitarian, aerodynamically clean, and handsomely uncluttered. The Highlander’s elevated hind quarters impart a dynamic forward thrust to the overall rake of its dipping beltline. Massive five spoke “Chrometec” alloy wheels, shod with 245/55R19 Bridgestone Dueler HL tires, reinforce the Hybrid’s imperious Clydesdale stance.

Inside, you enjoy all the benefits of increased space. The wide dashboard contains an innovative parcel shelf that sensibly stores all those loose odds and ends that normally float around the cockpit. The door panel armrests utilize memory foam which is pleasingly compliant to the touch. A centrally located 8 inch color touch screen controls tuning functions for the standard JBL entertainment system. The screen, which also covers interior climate control duties, can be difficult to read in daylight driving. Although the center console features a handy roll top cover, its storage well is so deep that a built in source of illumination inside would be helpful. Also, the dual center mounted cup holders seem to be configured for Big Gulp containers at the expense of smaller cups which are free to slosh about disconcertingly. These minor transgressions are all the more surprising in view of the brilliant design of that center oddments shelf.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

If you are in the $50,000 SUV market, the newly upsized Hybrid Highlander should be on yours required reading list. It makes up for its lack of flash with a list of virtues long enough to outbid such competitors as the Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe and Nissan Pathfinder.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

  • Engine: 3.5 liter DOHC V6 with VVT-I, plus Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 270hp
  • Torque: 280lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/ 28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $50,875
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Nissan Versa Note SR

Monday October 13th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Nissan Versa Note SR

By David Colman

Hypes: Cute SR Makeover, Good Value
Gripes: Weak Motor, CVT Woes

Nissan’s SR Versa strikes a new Note for 2015. From the outside, it’s apparent the SR is no base Note. Rather, it sings a different tune thanks to its unique front and rear fascias, side skirts, mesh black grill, black headlight enclosures, and machined-spoke 6×16″ alloy rims. Inside the smoked headlight enclosures sit multi-reflector Halogen bulbs. The exterior rearview mirrors contain neatly integrated turn signal indicators, and the tail of the roof incorporates a sizeable spoiler. Inside, seats covered with simulated suede continue the sport motif with orange racing stripes and stitching. Chrome door lock plates enliven the interior, along with silver trim accents on the shift lever and instrument panel. All these cosmetic changes elevate this Note to a higher key, by reconfiguring its appearance from boring to enticing. But does its performance live up to the promise of the pomade?

2015 Nissan Versa Note SR

Not quite. The sporty looking SR still utilizes the base Note’s economic 1.6 liter four, which commendably averages 35MPG in combined city/highway driving. The price you pay for such meager fuel consumption is lethargic straight line performance. With only 109hp and 107lb.-ft. of torque on tap, this engine needs special help from its gearbox to complete quick passing maneuvers, But with the SR’s “Xtronic” transmission, the overtaxed motor hardly gets any help at all. Since this continuously variable transmission lacks actual gear sets, you’re restricted to just 2 ranges of choice, Drive and Low. Drive range is relatively quiet because it keeps engine rpm low. But it also sedates power output, mandating a shift into Low range when you need extra punch. Low range does improve zip from tepid to acceptable, but at the expense of much increased noise from the suddenly high revving engine. There is no happy median between these two widely divergent conditions.

2015 Nissan Versa Note SR

The gearbox conundrum stifles the performance of an otherwise nimble Versa. Ride quality for such a short wheelbase car is surprisingly posh. The 195/55R16 Bridgestone Ecopia tires are partly responsible for good bump absorption, due to their tall 55 series sidewall profile. The Note remains reassuringly level and unflustered when pressed through switchbacks. The addition of a 370Z style steering wheel, complete with dimpled leather handgrips, furthers the sporting illusion. The manually adjustable front seats feature 6 change opportunities for the driver and 4 for the passenger. The surprisingly spacious rear seats offer decent comfort, and enormous legroom considering the diminutive size of the Note. Thanks to low window sash height, the interior feels spacious rather than constricted, a notion corroborated b y the numbers: 94.1 cubic feet of interior room and 18.4 cubic feet of trunk space in this hatchback.

2015 Nissan Versa Note SR

Nissan equips the SR Note with a wide variety of safety instruments, including side impact and curtain airbags, Traction Control and Vehicle Dynamic Control. Although the braking system includes anti lock technology (ABS) and electronic brake distribution (EBD), the system makes do with front discs but rear drums. We experienced mediocre brake retardation when slowing to a stop from freeway speed due to a lane closure. The pedal required more than moderate pressure to deal with this unexpected stoppage.

2015 Nissan Versa Note SR

The Versa Note SR offers unquestionably good value as basic transportation. Considering its $17,530 base price, you enjoy a lot of plusses for your limited investment. It will transport four in comfort, with a full size door for each. It will duck into parking places fatter hatchbacks spurn. It will run for a week on less than half a tank of gas. What it won’t do, however, is live up to the spanking promise of its new SR dressage. For that kind of performance, the spoiler and racing stripe brigade will have to look elsewhere.

2015 Nissan Versa Note SR

  • Engine: 1.6 liter inline four
  • Horsepower: 107hp
  • Torque: 109lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 31MPG City/40MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $19,180
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Cadillac Escalade 4WD Premium

Sunday October 12th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Cadillac Escalade 4WD Premium

By David Colman

Hypes: Biggest Bully on Your Block
Gripes: Chintzy Newsprint Owner’s Manual

When is big better? When you can’t remember where you parked at the mall. That’s when your Escalade, which stands taller than a Texan, allows you to see where you parked it. Big is also better when you need 7 seats to carry the soccer team home from practice. The Escalade will handle that assignment without worry. And big is best when you need to tow a heavy trailer. Cadillac rates our Escalade, equipped with optional ($500) 22 inch “Dual 7-Spoke Ultra-Bright” alloys at 7,000 pounds tow capacity.

This 3rd generation Escalade is based on GM’s recently released, all new GMT900 truck. Escalade fans and owners have waited patiently for 7 years for this updated Cadillac SUV.
In the Cadillac idiom, big needs to be imposing. The revamped Escalade, with its massive chrome grill, and vertical cascade of LED light pods, stands tall enough to double as a movie theater marquee. Climbing aboard is no mean feat, as the roofline stands 6 feet 2 inches high, and the step-in height from ground to cabin is an imposing 22 inches. Optional ($1,695) Assist Steps. Power Retractable reduce entry height to just 10 inches. But since these wide running boards remain in position when doors are open, they interfere with cabin access when you just want to reach in and grab something.

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For a vehicle that weighs more than three tons (6,027 pounds) this behemoth is reassuringly quick in a straight line, thanks to its 6.2 liter V-8′s 420hp and 460lb.-ft. of torque. A recent Motor Trend test pegged its 0-60mph time at 6.1 seconds, with a quarter mile run of 14.6 seconds at 95mph. On a twisty stretch of two lane blacktop, this Cadillac proved its versatility by powering through passing opportunities while maintaining equilibrium in turns due to the massive footprint of its 285/45R22 Bridgestone Dueler H/T tires. The Escalade carries a space saver spare tire tucked underneath the back of the vehicle, but according to diagrams in the Owner’s Manual, releasing it for use looks to be no simple matter. However, Cadillac provides concierge level roadside service that extends to tire changes, as well as fuel replenishment should you run dry. If you call for assistance on any problem and you’re within 30 miles of a Cadillac dealer, you can expect a representative of that dealership to meet you at your car. Otherwise, GM will arrange for a tow.

2015 Cadillac Escalade 4WD Premium

Inside, this latest Caddy confection is palatial. Everywhere your eye comes to rest is either real wood, hand cut leather, or rough-out suede. In a color scheme delectably described as “Shale with Cocoa Accents,” the passenger compartment of our Majestic Plum Metallic SUV will convince you that you’ve just checked into the Ritz. Power aids for every whim and notion abound. All four aft seats flip down with the push of a button. The pedals rise or retract electrically. The steering wheel is heated, as are the four front chairs. Ventilation fans cool the front row seats . If you wag your foot under the liftgate it will open automatically, freeing you from the need to grab a latch or find your key fob. You can even program the liftgate’s opening height. You can configure the 12 inch full color gauge cluster to show four different instrument renderings: Simple, Performance, Balanced and Enhanced. We went with the “English Balanced Cluster” which displayed engine rpm in the left face, speed in the analog center dial, and water temp/fuel level in the right window. A five way control wand to the right of the steering wheel accesses information cluster menus and options.

2015 Cadillac Escalade 4WD Premium

The Escalade’s 130 inch wheelbase and 224.3 inch length insure maximum stretch room for all passengers, plus hangar class storage when you fold the rear chairs flat. Unfortunately, the resultant vast load floor stands 39 inches above pavement height, so you’ll need to heft your goods more than three feet in the air before you can slide them aboard. On the other hand, the Escalade’s vaunted stature gives you an unparalleled view of traffic and road conditions. In the event that you fail to use this rare sightline gift, Escalade is fully endowed with safety aids that will keep you out of trouble. Side Blind Zone Alert, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and a Rear Vision Camera are all standard features. These warning harpies integrate seamlessly with normal driving, never becoming intrusive as so many other systems do. From time to time you may hear an alert chirp its presence, or feel a gentle nudge from your seat. All of this is helpful rather than annoying, and a model of civility other manufacturers would do well to emulate.

2015 Cadillac Escalade 4WD Premium

Albeit expensive, the 3rd generation Escalade is once again the aspiration SUV for technocrats seeking the thrill of tomorrow today.

2015 Cadillac Escalade 4WD Premium

  • Engine: 6.2 liter V-8, 16 Valves
  • Horsepower: 420hp
  • Torque: 460lb,-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 14 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $86,480
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Nissan Altima 2.5SL

Saturday October 11th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Nissan Altima 2.5SL

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious Back Seat, Inviting Interior
Gripes: Needs To Lose CVT Transmission

The Altima is Nissan’s scrappy contender in the turbulent family sedan marketplace. When you’re battling mainstream heavyweights like Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Accord, you need something special to attract buyers to your product. Although the Altima 2.5 SL is nothing special to look at or drive, it still merits consideration due to its affordable base price of $27,775. Seven different tiers of Altima are available (2.5, 2.5 S, 2.5 SV, 2.5 SL, 3.5S, 3.5 SV and 3.5 SL). Base prices range from $22,010 to $30,660. Models designated 2.5 utilize a four cylinder engine rated at 182hp. 3.5 models upgrade performance with a 3.5 liter V6 good for 270hp. Our test Altima fell squarely in the middle of the price range, with its 2.5 liter four mated to a CVT transmission. This combination yields 31MPG in overall driving.

2014 Nissan Altima 2.5SL

The SL designation adds the following improvements to the base 2.5 Altima: integrated turn signal rear view mirrors, fog lamps, premium Bose sound system, heated leather front seats, driver adjustable lumbar support, and auto dimming rearview mirror.
In addition, our test SL added an $800 moon roof, $210 in floor and trunk mats, and $1,090 for a Technology Package that increased color display screen size from 5 to 7 inches, and added navigation, blind spot and lane departure warnings, plus moving object detection. The $30,830 price brings you a fully equipped long distance cruiser with few flaws. In a world full of attention getting designs, the Altima SL is sedate and inoffensive, rather than brash and boastful.

Comfort ranks high on the list of attributes here. Ride is plush, with good damping of road imperfections. Nissan’s tire selection contributes to the plush ride. The 215/55R17 Continental Pro Contact tires help absorb bumps, though at the expense of precise steering feedback. Although handling is hardly cutting edge, the Altima will tackle any back road without embarrassing itself. To prove the point, Nissan is running a pair of Altima coupes in SCCA’s hotly contested Pirelli Touring Car Series, where they are consistent podium finishers.

2014 Nissan Altima 2.5SL

The interior of the SL looks expensive. The seats in particular, offer outstanding support and comfort. Nissan calls them “zero-g” because they are so light to the touch that you feel like you’re floating on air. With the exception of the driver’s seat, each seating position has been thoughtfully supplied with overhead grab handles to ease entry and exit. The commodious rear seat offers so much legroom you could almost sneak a pair of floor mounted jump seats into the mix. The rear seats also fold down in a 40/60 split, opening a vast storage space to the 15 cubic foot trunk. A pair of buttons on the rear window sill control the seatback flop. In another thoughtful touch, these buttons contain key locks, thus restricting trunk access to intentioned adults rather than playful children.

No matter which Altima you select, you have no choice but to accept the CVT transmission. Anyone who enjoys driving soon learns to loathe this invention. While CVT insures excellent fuel consumption figures, it drains the joy out of operating the 2.5 SL. With just 2 selections available for forward motion (“D” and “Ds”). you have very little control over your Altima’s rate of acceleration. Of course, this will only matter to you if back road driving comprises part of your daily itinerary. In those circumstances, your inability to resort to higher engine speed via lower gearing virtually mandates you will never pull out to pass slower traffic. The CVT thus insures tediously strict conga line behavior on twisty roads.

2014 Nissan Altima 2.5SL

But aside from the pair of drivers who contest the Pirelli series, no one would think to buy this Altima for its performance potential. Rather, the 2.5 SL is a sedan that makes sense to the accountant in us all. Its parsimonious behavior starts at the dealership where you can buy it for just a tick over thirty grand. It continues through the life of the sedan, where the EPA estimates annual fuel cost to be just $1,700. That’s about the same as you’d pay for a new Mini Cooper ($1,650). And if you have a family of four to transport, there’s no question which car makes more financial sense.

2014 Nissan Altima 2.5SL

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4, Double Overhead Cams, 16 Valves
  • Horsepower: 182hp
  • Torque: 180 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/38 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $30,830
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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